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Potluck: The Spirit of the Buffalo Hunt

Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch

The Spirit of the Buffalo Hunt

by Carol Bodensteiner
photo courtesy Dan McFarland



The hunter knelt beside a massive buffalo he’d brought down with bow and arrow. He dipped two fingers in the bull’s blood and marked streaks on his face, participating in a Native American ceremony honoring the courage of the bull.

“It was an emotional ceremony,” recalls Bill Krenz of Colorado of that experience. “It seemed a reverent way to honor and connect with the animal taken.”

Millions of buffalo roamed North America for 100,000 years. Native Americans both respected and relied on these massive creatures, surrounding the hunt with spirit-filled ceremony.

When Dan McFarland’s great-grandfather settled on the rolling hills of northeast Iowa in 1854, buffalo, wolves, and elk still roamed the land. But advancing civilization soon brought hunters who reduced the great animals nearly to extinction. Now the McFarland family has re-established buffalo on their Heritage Farm near Fredericksburg so that hunters such as Krenz can learn about and experience traditional Native American ceremonies as they hunt.

The hunting ceremonies have been researched in great detail by Dan McFarland, a history major who takes pride in providing hunters with an authentic experience. A smudge-feather ceremony before the hunt seeks to protect the hunter and deliver a successful hunt. A Crow tobacco ceremony guides the fallen buffalo to the spirit world. The last ceremony is the blood ceremony Krenz described. According to McFarland, many hunters find buffalo a challenge to hunt and the ceremonies unexpectedly meaningful. — C.B.

Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch tours, hunting, and Native American rituals can be scheduled year-round. Visit


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